Many members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) who are qualified to vote for the National Baseball Hall of Fame are on record as saying they will never vote for anyone who is linked to performance-enhancing drugs. That includes players who have tested positive for steroids, those who have admitted to using steroids, and those who have been tied to steroids through the Mitchell Report or through other strong evidence.
The Hall of Fame is already deprived of baseball’s all-time leader in hits, at-bats and games played. Although Pete Rose brought problems onto himself, his absence nevertheless leaves a void. To omit all players linked to steroids would create an even bigger void.
Imagine a generation from now having a Hall of Fame that is missing the all-time single-season and career leader in homeruns, a man who is also the single-season record holder in slugging percentage and on-base percentage. The man who has won more MVP Awards than any other player. Not to mention being the only player with at least 500 homers and 500 stolen bases.
Imagine the Hall without the pitcher who is third in career strikeouts and has won more Cy Young Awards than any other pitcher.
Imagine the Hall without one of only four players with at least 500 homeruns and 3,000 hits.
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro are three of the biggest names in baseball over the last generation. Record setters such as Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield are also tied to steroid use. To not have any of these players in the Hall would remove the Hall from being the place of record for many of the greatest achievements in baseball history.
Chances are some other players who used steroids are already in the Hall of Fame. They simply slipped in under the radar screen. They never admitted to anything and were never caught. There are players who will be inducted into the Hall in the future who fit this category. What a charade it will be to have undetected steroid users merrily taking their place as Hall of Famers, while perhaps better players, who were detected, languish in exile. Who really knows who used and who didn’t?
Gaylord Perry, a player who admitted to doctoring the ball with foreign substances, was not denied a place in the Hall. There is strong evidence to suggest Don Sutton and Whitey Ford also doctored the ball when in tough spots. They too are in the Hall.
Ty Cobb had the most votes in the first class of Hall of Famers. Without going through the litany of his offenses, suffice it to say Cobb was clearly found wanting in the areas of integrity, sportsmanship and character, which are clearly stated as part of the criteria the Hall of Fame voting should be based upon.
The biggest test case so far for the Hall has been McGwire. He first became eligible for the Hall in 2007. Since then he has never garnered as much as 25 percent of the vote. And that was before he admitted to anything. Since his admission in 2010 that he had used steroids for many years, his vote total may go down even more. He has close to 600 homeruns and has the best homerun frequency ratio of all-time, hitting homers at a faster clip than even Babe Ruth. But despite these facts, he is unlikely to reach the 75 percent of the vote necessary for induction. It can be argued that McGwire’s career totals are less than they might have been because he was injured so often, possibly as the result of putting so much additional weight onto a skeletal system that was built for less bulk.
The next test case will be Palmeiro, who will be eligible in 2011. Like other alleged or proven steroid users (Clemens, Bonds, Sosa, Jose Canseco, etc.), his career did not officially end so much as it just withered away. He was no longer welcomed in the Major Leagues and simply faded away. Like many others linked to steroids, he did not have those final couple years to round off his career numbers. Still he had several Hall of Fame numbers, including career homers and hits.
Bonds, Clemens and Sosa will probably all become eligible in 2013. We say probably because we don’t know who has or hasn’t officially retired. They are probably too old to play by now so they wouldn’t be able to stage a comeback even if they wanted. Bonds and Clemens had Hall of Fame careers even before anyone suspected them of steroid use, even when they were smaller and likely not using anything. If they were Hall of Famers anyway, why keep them out because of what they did to enhance their performances during the latter part of their careers? Sosa, on the other hand, was not close to being a Hall of Famer before his alleged steroid use. So, when that is factored in, he should not be a Hall of Famer.
Active players like Rodriguez and Ramirez present additional challenges when evaluating their records. Rodriguez, who has admitted to using steroids during his three years in Texas, has asked that those three years be disregarded and that the rest of his career be considered as worthy of the Hall of Fame. But can we assume those were the only three years he used anything? And how much of the gains created by steroid use remain with the player after he stops using substances?
Ramirez has been sidelined for 50 games for using a banned substance and is rumored to be on a 2003 list of drug users. Based on that, it can be surmised that he may have used enhancers for quite a long period.
The easiest case to evaluate is Sheffield. Although he did creep over the 500-homer plateau, it can be argued that he is simply not a Hall of Famer. He has said he did not know that the Cream product he used was a steroid. But his often surly attitude and penchant for confrontational behavior would make an already borderline candidate someone who falls short of the Hall.
How can the statistics of steroid users be compared to players in other eras who didn’t use performance enhancers? The fact is, for many reasons, stats can’t be compared from era to era anyway. It can be argued that steroids reduced players’ career numbers because those muscle-bound players were more prone to injuries and their careers were often abruptly halted when they were discovered as users. Also there were pitchers using steroids, and if they were throwing at 98 miles per hour instead of 88, wouldn’t it have been much tougher on the hitters?
Once Major League games are played under Major League sanction, the records and stats count and should never have to be vacated or receive an asterisk. It was up to Major League Baseball to have a strict testing policy in place much sooner than it did. Even with a testing policy, there are still ways to beat the system. For example, players can be using HGH without detection, or they may be using substances that have been altered by a molecule or two and don’t show up as a positive test.
The steroid era did occur and it cannot be dismissed any more than the spitball era can be dismissed. The statistics compiled during the steroid era are no less valid than those created during the lily-white, pre-Jackie Robinson era or the dead-ball era, etc. Pete Rose once said that Ty Cobb had an advantage over him in accumulating hits because Cobb didn’t have players like Willie Mays and Ozzie Smith tracking down his potential hits. Cobb once played an exhibition series against a non-white team in Cuba, and his performance did not come close to measuring up to the likes of John Henry Lloyd, a great Negro star who sparkled in his games against Cobb. After his humiliation at the hands of Lloyd, Cobb vowed never again to take the field against Negro players. Therefore, should we say that Cobb’s records don’t count because he played segregated baseball and did not play against many of the great players of his time?
The BBWAA members who categorically say they will never vote for anyone associated with steroids are missing the most basic point-that you cannot compare players from era to era and that each generation of players must stand on its own. The best players of this era, who played in sanctioned Major League games, should be voted into the Hall of Fame. A new era is underway, hopefully one that will be cleaner in terms of the use of performance enhancers.
Of the superstar players linked to steroids, Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, McGwire and Rodriguez should be voted into the Hall of Fame. Ramirez is a borderline player. Sosa and Sheffield should not be voted in. Each player should be evaluated on his own merits. But there should be no blanket condemnation of all players involved in steroid use, especially those who used substances before baseball said they couldn’t.